We recently published Shawn McClure’s heart-breaking “To My Sister, Who Threatened to Haunt Me.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) There’s a moment in this piece where the narrator says of her sister’s death, ” We both knew how it happened; you had been trying to tell us for years,” and there is a heaviness of guilt that permeates the story. Do you think the narrator can forgive herself? Can forgive her sister?
There is plenty of guilt threaded through this story, as well as a dose of denial. I think my narrator forgives her sister for her hostility because she understands that she is difficult, mentally ill, and perhaps estranged from the family. The narrator addresses her sister posthumously, trying to work through her own guilt. She misread all of the clues her sister left about how she felt. She had things to tell her and failed to say them. The narrator and her mother mourn the late sister together, trying to arrive in a place of love and absolution.
2) The imagery in this story is so powerful! I love how you connect that ephemeral, strange dream from the beginning with the ending piece, describing the late sister as a flock of birds. What does this imagery symbolize for you in this story? Does it mean the same thing for the narrator?
Aside from the fact that I adore birds scientifically, I also enjoy myths and legends involving birds. Birds appear frequently in my stories, and play an important role in my creative life.
This story came from an actual dream I had. It felt so real and foreboding, and right away I started working it into a story. I once read that starlings were conduits from the spirit world, or harbingers of death. In this case, I used the flock of birds to symbolize the soul of the narrator’s late sister.
The narrator acknowledges a certain amount of supernatural events happening around her. Yet, she remains oblivious. She never quite gets around to analyzing the dream of the birds, but I like to imagine that deep inside, she knows it was her sister saying farewell from beyond.